DELPHI, Ind. — After closing for more than a week to test all employees, the Indiana Packers meatpacking plant in Delphi will resume operations starting Friday.
The company tested over 2,000 people with 301 positive results.
“No, they do not feel safe going back to work,” a family member of two employees said. “It’s very scary right now for our family.”
The woman asked us not to use her name since she did not want her husband and mother-in-law to get in trouble. Both are employees at the Delphi Indiana Packers plant.
“The whole family is concerned,” she said. “We don’t want to be around each other. I almost don’t want to let him in the house when he gets home from work because we have two babies at home.”
Her husband and mother-in-law both tested negative, but are concerned with the mass test. They said instead of having a drive-thru test, they had to walk in the same tent with all the other employees. 13% of the plant’s employees tested positive.
“If they did test negative for it, who knows if they got it when they were there being tested,” she said.
The plant announced they’ll be reopening with limited operations on Friday, May 8. Despite her fears, the woman’s mother-in-law is being called in to work a nine-hour shift.
“I’m very concerned for them,” she said. “I don’t think it’s time for them to go back yet. I’m worried that we haven’t hit our peak yet in the factory, and it’s just going to get worse.”
The Tyson plant in Logansport also reopened after nearly 900 employees there tested positive.
The local UFCW union sent Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb a letter detailing measures they want the plant to make, and the state health department says they visited the plant.
“I do know they have instituted pretty much every measure we asked them to do in regards to this,” said ISDH commissioner Dr. Kristina Box.
Indiana Packers is also implementing extra measures to keep employees safe, such as providing fitted masks and running health screenings daily for employees.
However, the family still has concerns because of the number of positive cases, and feels they have no choice but to go back when the plant reopens.
“No, she does not feel like she has an option to say no,” the woman said of her mother-in-law. “She feels like if she says no she will lose her job.”
“If you choose to go back to work, you face getting sick. If you choose not to go back to work, you could be fired,” said James Dworkin, a professor of management at Purdue University.
Generally, Dworkin says if an employee refuses to return and gets fired, they could file a grievance. However, their chances of winning depend on underlying health reasons, or if they belong to a union. It also depends on if the employer is providing a safe workplace.
“If they just say they’re scared, and they have no other comorbidities, they’re going to have a tough time getting their job back or getting unemployment compensation,” Dworkin said.
Employees report being told they’ll get hazard pay for working, but say the 10% extra is not worth the risk.
“I do not feel like it is time to open up Indiana Packers yet,” the family member said. “I do not feel like this is safe at all for the community.”